"We know that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to obesity, and that a large number of deaths are caused by obesity-related diseases. But until now, nobody had really put these pieces together," lead author Gitanjali Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, told ABC-TV News.
Singh and colleagues used data from national health surveys around the world and tied sugar-sweetened beverages to 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and 6,000 deaths from cancer in 2010.
"I think our findings should really impel policymakers to make effective policies to reduce sugary beverage consumption since it causes a significant number of deaths," Singh said.
Singh said the word "cause" was an appropriate term despite the limitations of the study.
Average sugary-drink consumption varied from less than 8 ounces a day in elderly Chinese women to more than five drinks, or 40 oz. a day, in younger Cuban men, the study said.
Japan, where sugary drink consumption is low had the lowest level of deaths linked to sugary drinks -- 10 deaths per 1 million adults, while Mexico had the highest level of deaths 318 deaths per million adults.
The findings were presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in New Orleans.
"It [the study] does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer -- the real causes of death among the studied subjects," the American Beverage Association said in a statement.
"The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease."